Limerick, Ireland born left back Tom “Bud” Aherne started his career with his hometown club, Limerick where his teammates included Davy Walsh, scoring a rare goal in the 1938 Munster Cup Final. He served in the Irish army at Crosshaven during the Second World War years. His impressive performances in the League of Ireland, whom he represented on 4 occasions in 1944 and 1945 in matches against the Northern Regional League, attracted attention and he was signed by Belfast Celtic in August 1946. Aherne came to the fore in the successful post-war Belfast Celtic side, stepping into the left back position vacated by the legendary Bertie Fulton. At Celtic Park he won an Irish Cup Winners’ medal in 1947 and the Irish League Championship in 1948, the League’s first season after the War.
In the days when Irish players could be capped by either association on the island, Aherne’s first full international cap came for the FAI’s Eire (now the Republic of Ireland) team, in a 3-1 defeat by Portugal in June 1946. Three months later he won his first IFA (Northern Ireland) cap, against England at Windsor Park – though he had already won two Victory International caps against Scotland and Wales in February and May that year, winning in total 4 IFA Caps through to March 1950. He also played 6 times for The Irish League in 1946 and 1947.
A £6,000 move to Second Division Luton Town in March 1949, shortly before Belfast Celtic’s resignation from the Irish League, saw Aherne make his Football League debut a few days later at Tottenham Hotspur. He also re-established himself in the FAI’s team after three years without an appearance. In November 1949, along with Con Martin, Reg Ryan and Dave Walsh, he featured in Eire’s World Cup Qualifier against Sweden. In March 1950 the same four players featured for (Northern) Ireland in a Home Nations match against Wales which doubled as a World Cup Qualifier. This situation could not continue and the era of “dual internationals” was brought to an end.
Already nearly 30 when he joined The Hatters, his career at Luton lasted a further eight seasons and he was a regular in their first team until February 1957, missing only one match in 1951-52 and he was an ever present in 1954-55 when Luton won promotion to the First Division, playing two seasons in the top flight despite already being in his late 30’s. He was also noted for his effectiveness against the star winger of the day, Stanley Matthews, keeping him quiet each time they met.
Aherne’s final international cap came as the Republic of Ireland lost 5-3 to France in October 1953. In total he had been capped 16 times by the FAI. Aherne was a member of the famous Southern Irish team that beat England at Goodison Park in 1949, the first time that England were defeated by a ‘foreign’ team on home soil.
Aherne played competitive football into his late thirties; in the end it was a hairline fracture of the ankle that effectively ended his League career. On his retirement from first team football he coached the Hatters’ Youth Team, but for several years he continued to turn out for non league Luton Celtic from 1957.